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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, November 13, 2019
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with Matè Espina

Panaad garden growers cry foul

Rock & Refuge

From the time of then Governor Lito Coscolluela, we have been accustomed to see garden growers at the Panaad Park and Stadium.

I’ve gotten to know some of them because, through the years, I’ve scoured that area to get ornamental plants for our home and I know some of them don’t earn that much except during the weeklong Panaad Festival, or when the stadium is used for sporting events and the likes.

Unfortunately for these growers, they are being asked to vacate their spaces after Gov. Bong Lacson ordered their removal from the grounds, calling them “illegal settlers.”

Legally, Gov. Bong may be correct as these growers don’t have titles to their spaces, much less a memorandum of agreement with the provincial government, allowing them to grow and sell in that particular area which is across the structures of Sagay City, Don Salvador Benedicto, EB Magalona and other LGUs.

However, this administration is probably unaware that these plant growers have been instrumental in beautifying the park when it was first opened.

As one grower told me, the provincial government had very little budget left to put up the aesthetics when Panaad first opened and the garden growers came to its aide by planting, replanting and nurturing the greens that surround the park and the structures.

Perhaps because past administrations after Coscolluela took them in as permanent residents of the park, albeit not officially, the garden growers felt secure and did not bother to seek for a resolution or a MOA allowing them to continue using those spaces.

I for one have witnessed how then Panaad park manager, the late Ian de Ramos, would go around these stalls and borrow plants whenever the province invited dignitaries, to beautify the stadium.

One of the members gave me a copy of the notice from the province issued by Provincial Legal Officer, Alberto Nellas, Jr. dated October 25, giving them 15 days to “remove your illegal structure” within the park otherwise, the provincial government will “undertake appropriate legal action and steps to stop your unauthorized activities and to clear the premises of the park from your illegal structure.”

They actually asked the provincial government if they can be given another area from the one they are using as they were told that that would be converted into a parking lot in preparation for a big sporting event the province will soon be hosting.

The growers also said that they are willing to pay rent for the new spaces if ever they will be granted one for as long as they can stay in the area where they have been serving clients for over two decades since they’ve been there since 1998 when the Panaad was first constructed for the Palarong Pambansa games.

They stressed too that, unlike the coop bank in the lagoon which was also asked to vacate the area but which has been given a reprieve for a year by the governor, the garden growers have been paying their utilities like power and water.

Growers said they were able to dialog with a certain “Jojo” from the office of the governor from whom they asked for a reconsideration given that 15 days is too short a time for them to find new spaces.

But they’ve never felt so belittled when in the course of the dialog, they were trying to explain the difficult process of uprooting plants which they may not be able to do within that short period of time, but Jojo allegedly replied that it is no concern of his and for all he cares, they can throw their plants in the river.

These garden growers are basically educated and professionals and even have a pastor among their members and were a bit taken aback by the treatment they got from this employee.

In fact, they took some offense when a news item branded them as “illegal,” and their presence there might constitute a threat to the security of athletes. Hmmm…I too would be insulted when garden growers have never been linked to any chaotic incident that happened in Panaad.

The growers know that it was their fault for not ensuring their legal occupancy within the park but they honestly admitted that it never dawned on them that they’ll be brushed aside by the new administration when in fact, they have been given recognition by past administrations for their help in beautifying the park.

I personally told them to seek an audience with the governor as he may be getting wrong information from his people. After all, Gov. Bong has acceded to allow the Negros Forest Park to stay beside the Capitol Lagoon, reversing the decision then of the past administration to relocate the breeding center of endangered wildlife in the Panaadpark.

He also softened a bit on the coop bank at the lagoon, allowing them to stay for a year while they look for a new home.

And just perhaps, the governor will also listen to their plea to give them more time to relocate, or better yet, give them a new home within the park.*

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